Posts Tagged 'Rurality'

Amtrak Moments

1. Sunrise in Nebraska 2. Lonely farms 3. New reading 4. Knitting to Impress 5. Chicago Station 6. West Virginia 7. Knitting at Sunset 8. Delayed in Virginia 9. Delayed at Sunset


All That – In The News!

Technology and Modern Life

  • Apparently smartphone users don’t download health-related apps. Wait, actually, I don’t have a health-related app on my smartphone! Does this mean that smartphone users don’t care about their health? In my case, it just means that I prefer to handle my health in the real world, where, you know, my body lives.
  • Pen and Ink bloggers were spreading this article a few weeks ago: How Twitter made handwriting cool. But the article doesn’t actually answer the question in the title (good lesson for article-writing, kids!). Instead, the article pits “notebookers and stationary fetishists” and “social networking, commenting and blogging” on opposite sides of “a modern social divide.” And frankly, this is just incorrect– but that will have to wait for its own post.
  • Apparently men with liberal arts degrees are fairly screwed, professionally speaking. This is a good example of how sexism affects both women and men. Those poor artsy boys…
  • So smart people are more likely to use drugs. Despite the titillating headline, the real point of the article is that in terms of evolution, intelligence doesn’t lead to healthy choices; it leads to innovative ones. Setting evolution aside for a moment, I think there’s a more important social meaning to this, in terms of today’s society. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the War on Drugs tends to punish drug users more than drug lords. Despite the inspirational posters in elementary schools, our society does not reward thinking outside the box (of capitalism, of a two-party political system, etc). When it comes to drugs, drug lords are thinking inside the box: they’re making money through exploitation and dependence. (Capitalism at its finest!) Drug users, on the other hand, are a problem because they reveal deep vulnerabilities in the United States: racial oppression, and the threat of innovative intelligence.

Rurality and Urbanism

Rurality Online

Rural Recommendations

Browse: Farmgirl Fare blog has friggin’ cute baby donkeys, seriously delicious recipes, and beautiful quilts. To put it simply, this blog is good therapy after a long day of work.

Read: Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, is a rare example of a novel that confronts politics, money, and the environment without being, um, badly written. Which is quite a feat, given that environmental novelists like Wendell Berry and Barbara Kingsolver (as much as I enjoy them) quite often become preachy and one-sided. Refreshingly, Franzen has created some of the most complex and engaging characters I’ve read in a long time. (And the book still manages to be a damn good exploration of the complicated political side to environmentalism)

In other news…

My alma mater, Kenyon College, just received a grant for a three-year project called Rural by Design, which focuses on a cutting-edge holistic approach rural sustainability. Over the past century, urban design has become accepted as a legitimate profession or pursuit, but this grant hopes to put rural design on the same page.

Speaking of rural design, check out these creepy aerial images of disconnected sprawl.

Grist posted this super-interesting article about the “war” between cities and suburbs— which might as well be titled “a real-life enactment of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom”. Unfortunately, this so-called war between cities and suburbs is not about the benefits and drawbacks to each structure of living and communing, but rather about structural sustainability versus the infringement on personal liberty. You might notice that there’s a third party missing from this debate: rural populations.

Obama talks rural communities and energy challenges. I don’t have nearly the leisure time to blog about the question of energy in the United States (aside from the occasional rant about the coal industry), but extraction of natural resources should always be in mind when thinking about rural areas.

…speaking of which, the coal industry is setting its sights on Illinois now that Appalachia is nearly used up and fucked over. Is anyone else reminded of that sleazy guy in college who was clearly dealing with his own insecurities by sleeping with one girl after another?

On the plus side, there’s finally going to be a study released about the links between mining and cancer! Except–oh, wait– we’ll only see it after it’s been reviewed by a mining industry group. Biased much?

Meanwhile, a new study looks at the different lifestyles that young urban people want— and while cushy, it also sounds pretty sustainable…

Hooray, my mountains! The Blue Ridge Mountains preserve 58,000 acres


Natasha Bowens offers a solid critique of the white majority in sustainable agriculture.

In Ireland, recession is returning the economy back to its rural roots. More evidence to support my quiet hypothesis that underneath the fluctuations of money, rural living is the natural state of communities.

A Kentucky county finds that the Farm-to-School movement isn’t as simple as it should be. Having worked with local food programs at my own college, I know that these projects are so exciting in those early idealistic stages, but are less easy to actually execute.

Native American Indian farmers have settled with the Obama administration after years of discrimination from the USDA.

Digital v. Analog

USA Today discusses the role that e-books have played in renewing people’s love of reading

…while the New York Times interviews college students about the same debate between e-books and hard copies.

A Blogger’s Worst Nightmare!

Forgetting your camera at the other side of your road trip. GAH.

In any case, my Road Trip Post will have to wait until my camera is shipped to me from Ohio.

In the meantime…

Check out what’s been up with Rurality in the News*


*Should I come up with a series title for this? I don’t ever want to be a reblogger, but because rurality is such a broad concept I think it’s useful to compile all these different subjects and articles into one place.

How To Keep Your Roots On The Road

I’m going to be gone until August 27, doing this:

Boulder - Black Hills - Keystone - Blue Mounds - Winona - Nappanee - Gambier (and some stops in between)

To make up for my absence, though, expect a Massive Artsy Post (MAP*) on my travels when I get back. I’ve got my travel sketchbook packed, my watercolors condensed into a travel kit, my camera is charged, and I’m prepared to spend some quality time with a scanner when I get back.

Road trips always make me feel excited and uncomfortable at the same time: I don’t want to be one of those tourists that takes advantage of a rural place and then just heads back to my cushy privileged “regular” life. But in this case, I’m taking a friend back to school– legitimate reason, right? –and the Dakotas are calling to me way more than that long drive across Kansas.

Rurality (that is: roots, heritage, history, physicality, wisdom…) is functionally incompatible with Jack Kerouac. There are no roots “on the road.” That’s why trickster figures– the unpredictable Coyote and Ravin of myths and folk tales –appear in varied settings in different stories. Trickster figures are without a home (or at least, any stable or consistent home). They lack roots, and so it’s ironic that they have been consistently present in the indigenous folk tales of cultures for millenia.

Trickster has smarts, but no wisdom. (That’s why they say one has “street smarts,” but wisdom seems to be something more associated with rural values). And thus stealing, deception and trickery all reside at the crossroads. They characterize the traveling life.

Yet “on the road” is also where adventure, flexibility, and possibility come into play. And those things are necessary too. Justso long as one’s sense of Play doesn’t overwhelm one’s sense of Place.

Until the 26th, then!


Rurality in the News

Some of this blog’s overarching themes have been all over the news lately:


*For the record, a “Western Diet” was defined as one that relies heavily on takeaway foods, processed meats, red meat, high fat dairy products, and confectionery.

Why Don’t Intellectuals Go To The Rodeo?

EDIT: I’ve been getting quite the response to this post (which is great!) but I wanted to insert one note before I continue to moderate comments. If you’re visiting my blog for the first time, do please take a look at my information page first. My own background is from the rural South, and I started this blog for rural culture and rural rights, especially Appalachian and Southern economic/ environmental oppression. I am an intellectual (if by that you mean kinda dorky and quiet), but even my college thesis was about rural-urban interactions and power dynamics.

So please, don’t mis-read this post as an attack on the rodeo. I had a great time! And I met some great people (and yes, I did talk to the “locals” –although the majority of the crowd was certainly not from Cheyenne, so I’d say we were all visitors in one way or another).

This is meant to be a sensitive, but also fair, exploration of the question that was in my head all weekend: why don’t I see more people with tattoos and shaved heads at the rodeo? I’m also trying to imply that urbanites and intellectuals go to the rodeo– because as far as I’m concerned, the more diversity in a crowd, the better the communal dehydration.


So I’ve been trying to re-hydrate all week after drinking nothing but beer this past weekend. I don’t mean that I chose to drink beer all weekend; I mean there was no available beverages except beer (and soda, which I don’t drink). At one point, I tried sipping water from the campground bathrooms. (Not recommended, for the record.)

Where did I experience this marathon dehydration, you ask?

…That would be the Frontier Days Rodeo, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Which I guess means that I’m really west of the Mississippi now.

Still, my colleagues and I definitely stood out of the crowd: one of us with tattoos down her arms, and another one with a shaved head… The two men in our group, on the other hand, tried to embrace the weekend with plaid shirts and cowboy hats (with only moderate success). You can distinguish the urban and East Coast men from the cowboys and ranchers because their buzz-cuts are neatly shaped at the back of the neck. (I noticed this sitting at the back of the bus ride from the camp ground). When it comes to “reading” other people’s appearances, little things like that are just as significant as tattoos and shaved heads.

Stamped For Entry

The general atmosphere of Frontier Days is basically that of a state fair (same grease-soaked food, same vomit-inducing rides) but it all revolves around the rodeo stadium– and of course the evening country concerts. The majority of the day-crowd is definitely nuclear families, who have all somehow managed to produce exactly one son and one daughter.

The night crowd is… well, let’s just say that one of my colleagues had his foot peed on.

You can identify the real cowboys because their shirts are tucked in. Their jeans are stiff and pressed, and they have this kind of awkward silence about them, like they’d rather not be in a crowd. Everybody is sunburnt, but the cowboys have this terra cotta skin that looks like decades of layered sunburns. Also, their belt buckles are big.

One of my colleagues informed me that “buckle bunnies” are the cowboy-version of groupies. I’m not sure whether he was lying or not.

Anyways. I spent the weekend wondering why urban-liberal-intellectuals (ULI’s) never appreciate events like this. It’s more than pretension or animal-rights politics; I think there’s a genuine discomfort with some basic cultural element of state fairs, rodeos, and theme parks. David Foster Wallace wrote an essay called “Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All,” where he basically stumbles around the Illinois State Fair in a totally overwhelmed haze.

Here’s my tentative hypothesis

I think urban liberals don’t like these events because they function as a perfect metaphor for all of the large-scale violence that we experience on a national and cultural level. A little too perfect a metaphor, maybe.

Because in fact, going to the rodeo is basically a stadium of people getting off on violence. This is true of most spectator sports, but at the rodeo there is a more obvious gladiatorial element: the entertainment relies quite literally on watching one living being dominating another. And if you don’t think that this mirrors larger forms of violence, just wait till you walk outside the stadium and see the family leading a group of boys, each carrying a full-size, blow-up AK-47. Ah, the innocence of childhood. What is most warfare, really, except one nation roping another into submission?

There are a few events where cowboys team up to rope a calf or a colt or something. They’re kind of like allied forces in domination! Familiar? I like the actual bull riding the best, because it seems the most evenly-matched. Check out this guy getting trampled. High entertainment, for sure!

Perhaps the presence of t-shirts that say something like “Welcome to America. Now Speak English” are a better example of the way that these events revolve around an “us versus them” mentality. Which is ironic, because these events are supposed to be communal events. Foster Wallace talks about this too, in the aforementioned essay about the Illinois State Fair: “The state fair is rural Illinois’ moment of maximum community, but even at a Fair whose whole raison is ‘For-Us’, Us‘s entail Thems, apparently.” In that essay, he’s talking about the tension between agricultural folk and the family crowd, and ag-folk’s outright distain for the carnies. At the Frontier Days rodeo, patriotism was the thread that linked all these metaphors together: whether it was the American flag-patterned prizes, or the cowboy who received the biggest applause for serving in Iraq.

Anyways, it seemed pretty clear that these elements worked together towards a common cultural theme: violence against thems. And this includes the way that many ULI’s stereotype obese Midwesterners (the primary fault in DFW’s otherwise-brilliant essay), or blame conservative ranchers for miscellaneous political ailments. Because, despite the uncomfortable and unhealthy culture of Frontier Days, I think cowboys themselves have a hell of a healthier relationship to animals than suburban PETA activists who refuse to acknowledge the complexity of the human-animal relationship. They do respect those bulls, for sure.

(…Not that I think cowboys are living great lives– check out this crazy fucking horse!)

A Beautiful Wyoming Sunset


I’m working on a long essay about Frontier Days for print publication, so this post is a preliminary and abbreviated version of that. Mostly it’s just a summary of my thesis.

Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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